AT&T Long Lines- The Bell System Unit For Nationwide and Worldwide Communications (Long Lines Role, History)
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AT&T Long Lines

"Long Lines"
The Bell System Unit For Nationwide
and Worldwide Communications

Long Lines Role, History, Services

Table of Contents Chapter Links:

The history of telephone service covers little more than the normal span of a man's lifetime. Yet it has become almost universally accepted in the United States as a way to get things done effectively and conveniently. In fact, most people would find getting along without it next to impossible.

The long distance side of the service has had a steady expansion. Telephoning
over hundreds of miles is now an ordinary affair, and the volume of calls with overseas points keeps on climbing. The telephone has bridged vast distances and brought people around the world closer together.

In the first section of this book, we explore the role of Long Lines in the Bell System, the early days of telephony, long distance services and facilities of today, and the working arrangements Long Lines has with its partners in the long distance telephone business.

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Long Lines And Other Bell Units

A homesick college girl in Massachusetts is cheered up by a telephone chat with her parents in Oregon .... A quick call to Italy helps an Ohio manufacturer close an important deal ....

Here are two different needs, yet there is a common denominator. Both needs are filled with the help of Long Lines, the long distance operating department of American Telephone and Telegraph Company, which provides interstate and international communications services. And both illustrate the essential purpose of Long Lines: to enable people--separated by hundreds or thousands of miles-to communicate quickly with one another.

To do so, Long Lines operates a network of facilities for nationwide and worldwide communications. Its circuits interconnect the territories of the telephone companies that provide local service throughout the country. With its communications counterparts abroad, Long Lines furnishes circuits linking the United States with countries around the globe.

Long Lines and its partners in this communications enterprise are part of a group called the Bell System. The role of each member in this group is described briefly below.

AT&T is the parent company. It maintains a central staff in New York to advise and assist its Long Lines Department and subsidiary
companies on their common problems.

Western Electric is the manufacturing and supply unit. It guarantees the high quality and compatibility of the billions of components that make up the Bell System's network.

Bell Telephone Laboratories helps assure the future of the business by conducting a continuous search ]or new and more effective ways for people to communicate.

Twenty-three telephone companies, known as Associated Companies, furnish communications in their own territories. Each meets the special needs of the areas it serves.

Long Lines interconnects the territories of these companies (and some 2,000 others which are not part of the Bell System) to give nationwide and worldwide service.

The key to the Bell System's effectiveness is the careful fitting together of its many parts: the combination of research at Bell Laboratories, manufacturing at Western Electric, and operations at Long Lines and the associated companies to achieve a balanced allocation of resources in providing Bell System customers with the best communications service in the world.

Obligations to the Public

Long Lines and the other operating units of the Bell System have a definite obligation to the public. Their responsibility--and sole reason for existence -- is to serve and serve well.

The Bell System has acquired an excellent reputation for service over the years. It is a progressive business. It makes important contributions to society and to the general economy. Competent and forward-looking people work in it.

To meet its responsibilities, the Bell System follows a fundamental threefold policy:

  • the best communications service to the public at the lowest cost consistent with financial safety;

  • steady work at fair wages to employees;

  • a reasonable return to those who have invested in the business.

That policy has been expressed publicly on a number of occasions since the business began. While the business has changed and expanded over the years, its basic operating principles have remained the same.

In a recent AT&T annual report, the policy was put in a contemporary context:
"Our job as we see it is to provide the best possible communications service and make it continuously better and more abundant.

"This means service that our customers will find more and more satisfying to use, more dependable, more versatile, more economical, more valuable.

"To accomplish this we must all the time seek to develop new knowledge and resources that will meet changing social, industrial and national needs.

"We must strive to hold down costs so that charges to customers will be as low as possible consistent with the kinds of service they desire.

"We must maintain complete financial integrity and earn profits that will justify the continuing confidence of all who invest in our enterprise.

"We must bring into the business people who have the will and can learn the skills for quality performance, and offer them opportunity regardless of color or creed. Good wages, first-rate training, challenge on the job, and for each employee the chance to get ahead according to ability-these are essential."

It's a Regulated Business

Like other public utilities, Long Lines and the associated companies are subject to governmental regulation in a variety of matters, including the quality and the kind of services, and the charges for them. This is because we don't have the same kind of competition as other, non-regulated businesses -- though we do compete for, among other things, competent, skilled employees, capital from investors and a fair share of the public's dollar.

Nearly every state has a public service commission which regulates communications within its borders. Since Long Lines operates between states-- and between continents--it comes under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. The commission was created by an act of Congress, known as the Communications Act of 1934, "for the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio."

The Commission's Job

Under the Act, the FCC must see to it that any U. S. communications carrier giving interstate or international service meets all reasonable requests for service and furnishes service without discrimination, at rates which are just and reasonable. The carrier must publish rates and regulations for its services and file them with the commission. It also must obtain approval from the commission for construction of new facilities.

The FCC evaluates the carrier's property and prescribes the accounting methods the carrier is to use. The commission also regulates the amount of depreciation dollars which may be charged against operating expenses so the carrier can recover the capital invested in plant during its service life.

The Bell System has lived with regulation for more than half a century. It recognizes the necessity for it. At the same time, the Bell System believes that the interests of its customers are best served when it is allowed the freedom and incentive to enhance both service and profits through self-initiated operating efficiencies and technological improvements.

There is overwhelming evidence that the U.S. system of entrusting communications service to private enterprise under public regulation has been effective. The chief testimony to its success is the general agreement around the world that the U.S. has outstanding communications service. Much of the credit belongs, of course, to telephone people. But the enlightened attitude of most regulatory authorities over the years has helped a great deal to make good service possible.

The Early Days

For our purposes, the telephone industry began on March 7, 1876. That's when the U.S. Patent Office issued Patent No. 174,465 to Alexander Graham Bell.

Actually, the patent was issued to him for what was described as an improvement in telegraphy. But in this particular case, telegraphy dropped out of the picture three days later.

That day, March 10, 1876, Bell was working behind closed doors in a room in Boston. His assistant, Thomas Watson, was out of earshot in another room down the hall. Linking the two rooms was the primitive telephone device that Bell and Watson were working on. Bell, accidentally spilling battery acid on his clothes, cried out, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!" In a moment Watson came rushing in, shouting, "Mr. Bell, I heard every word you said, distinctly."

That was the first sentence heard over the telephone.

It showed that the so-called improvement in telegraphy was actually far removed from telegraphy.

Bell had been working for some time on harnessing sound, just as latter-day researchers spent years studying techniques to harness the atom. He concentrated on the anatomy of sound waves which, as he knew, consist of vibrations. Sound waves reaching the ear cause the eardrums to vibrate, and the vibrations, translated into subtle, electrochemical pulses in nerve endings and the brain, tell the listener what he is hearing. Each sound has its own peculiar frequency--the number of times it vibrates each second.

Sound waves do not travel very far or fast. And the farther they travel the fainter they become. But when their electrical counterparts travel over telephone circuits, their speed may be increased as much as 900,000 times. Though these electrical vibrations lose intensity with distance from their source, they can be amplified at intervals and "reconstructed" with practically the same clarity and tone as the original spoken message.

The fact that Bell was an elocution professor and an expert in instructing the deaf gave him a decided "edge" over other experimenters. He had a great deal of knowledge both about vocal chord vibrations and the workings of the human ear. The discovery that led to his invention of the telephone was that waves of electricity could be created with the same pattern as the waves of air a person sets in motion when he speaks.

The Birth of the Bell System

Once it was established that Bell's invention worked, the next move was to put it to practical use. The first telephone company was set up in July, 1877 in Boston as the Bell Telephone Company, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, Trustee.

Hubbard, whose daughter was soon to marry Bell, was an attorney. His legacy to the Bell System was the leasing and licensing arrangements that led directly to the sale of service only. He got the idea from a Massachusetts shoe machinery outfit that leased its sewing machines to shoemakers, retained title to the machines and received a royalty for every pair of shoes its machines sewed.

Hubbard made his decision despite strong pressure from most of his colleagues and in spite of a sore need for money at a time when the sale of telephones would undoubtedly have brought in more income. He held firmly to the leasing principle as the wisest and best for the telephone business. History proved him right. The leasing of telephones has been a vital factor in the development of today's unified network.

After various corporate changes, the National Bell Telephone Company was formed in Boston early in 1879. A year later, because of expanding business, Bell interests again reorganized to form the American Bell Telephone Company, established by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature.

At that time, there were nearly 48,000 telephones in the U.S. and some 400 exchanges. Experiments with long distance telephoning had been going on almost since the telephone was invented. However, interconnection among the exchanges was complex and costly.

To meet that situation, AT&T was formed in 1885 as a subsidiary of American Bell. Its purpose was to build lines to connect the scattered telephone exchanges in the U.S. and, as the certificate of incorporation put it, "also by cable and other appropriate means with the rest of the known world."

This was a forward-looking document when you consider that at the time there were fewer than 150,000 telephones in the whole country.

Conquering Distance

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The first job of the newly organized American Telephone and Telegraph Company was to construct an open wire pole line between New York and Philadelphia.

The line was completed and work began on other projects. From Philadelphia, it was extended south to Washington, D.C., and an experimental line, constructed earlier between New York and Boston, was rebuilt. And work also was started on a line from New York to Albany and on to Buffalo.

Construction steadily pushed westward. The first telephone lines reached Chicago from the East in 1892; St. Louis in 1896; Minneapolis and Omaha in 1897; and Kansas City in 1898. Those lines were connected to intermediate cities along the way and branches extended from important switching points to adjacent cities.

By 1906, there were telephone lines from the East Coast as far west as Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Minnesota. The primitive telephone network, making the most of the capabilities of existing equipment and facilities, had stretched out as far as it could.

From a long distance standpoint, the period up to 1906 chiefly involved the extension and construction of telephone plant, together with the growth and development of the organization. The plant used in providing telephone service was placed on a sound engineering footing. Research, development and testing were continuing in many fields. The virtues of hard-drawn copper for line wire and the new development of using two wires to form a talking circuit (instead of the one "grounded" wire that telephone men started out with) were demonstrated. Engineers also were able to eliminate objectionable "cross-talk" by interchanging the positions of the wires at certain poles along the line.

But there were still difficulties to overcome. For one thing, a way had to be found to lengthen the distance over which speech could be transmitted.

A step in this direction was the use of "loading coils" on long distance circuits. When installed at the right intervals, the coils helped compensate for energy losses along the route; they had the effect of making electrical impulses travel a greater distance with relatively unimpaired transmission. Using loading coils, telephone engineers extended long distance service westward from the Atlantic seaboard to Denver by 1911 and to Salt Lake City by 1913.

Another problem, also involving energy losses, stemmed from the expansion of the telephone network itself. Open wire line facilities were becoming congested in the more heavily populated sections of the country, and local ordinances in many towns and cities called for elimination of pole lines from main streets. This meant placing cables underground. However, putting lines in cables-even for a few miles through a congested district--caused additional energy losses that materially shortened the length of transmission.

By 1910 a solution was in sight. Design and manufacturing technique had reached the point where a cable suitable for carrying long distance circuits could be built.

Construction of the first long distance cable was begun. Completely underground, it extended from Boston to Washington via New York, with some of its conductors terminating at cities along the route. The first "through" circuit along the entire length of the new cable went into service in 1914.

At the same time, much experimental work was directed toward the development of amplifiers more effective than loading coils. Several new methods were devised, but it was not until the invention of the three-element vacuum tube--plus a suitable electrical circuit--that the best amplifier became available. These amplifiers, known as "telephone repeaters," made it possible to extend the range of man's voice clear across the country. The first transcontinental telephone line, consisting of three circuits, opened for service in 1915.

With the advent of the telephone repeater, construction of long distance cable lines got into full swing. The relatively large energy losses of the small conductors in cables could now be counteracted by placing repeaters at frequent intervals along the line.

The capacity of cable, already greater than the capacity of open wire, was given a boost through the development of "carrier" transmission techniques. This made it possible to transmit additional conversations over pairs of wires.

Cable carried many more circuits than open wire, and was much less vulnerable to storm damage. In the next twenty years or so, cable replaced most of the open wire in the East and Midwest, where traffic loads were greatest and storm hazards most severe.

As more efficient systems were being developed for service over land, Bell engineers were looking into the possibilities of radio for telephoning overseas. In 1915--a few months after the first transcontinental line went into service--the first words were transmitted by radiotelephone across the Atlantic. H. R. Shreeve, a Bell engineer taking part in an experiment, was stationed at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He heard the words "... and now, Shreeve, good night" addressed to him by a colleague through a transmitting station at Arlington, Va.

But it took a dozen years before satisfactory equipment and methods could be developed for commercial service. In 1927, overseas service was opened between New York and London as a cooperative enterprise of AT&T and the British Post Office.

Man's voice, having spanned the continent, had now reached out across the ocean. This was the start of telephone service which Long Lines now provides on a worldwide scale.

Many Kinds of Services

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Today, Long Lines offers a wide variety of communications services--including long distance and overseas calling and data transmission--that play a significant role in the lives of Americans.

The most widely used and best known is regular long distance telephone service. It is provided over the nationwide network by Long Lines and its telephone company partners across the nation. An important feature of the service is direct distance dialing (DDD), which enables customers to dial their own calls. Briefly, DDD works this way:

For telephone purposes the U.S. and Canada (and a number of Caribbean points) are divided into areas, each with its own code. A customer who calls a telephone in a different area dials the area code first. That tells the equipment the section of the country the call is headed for. As the rest of the number is dialed, the equipment picks the right city. If direct routes are busy, this same equipment tries alternate paths until it finds an idle circuit to establish the connection. Meanwhile, other equipment keeps track of how long the call lasted and makes a record of information needed for billing purposes.

Another service is the transmission of network television and radio programs to stations throughout the country. Long Lines technicians see to it that these programs reach the right stations at just the right moment. That means making the proper switches with split-second timing.

Long distance circuits also help in the dissemination of news. Speed is essential, so a good deal of the national news in daily newspapers is flashed over teletypewriter links provided by Long Lines.

News pictures, too, travel over tong distance circuits. A picture of an event in Chicago, for instance, is placed on a telephotograph machine there. The signals are transmitted over Long Lines facilities and, a few minutes later, an exact copy is reproduced on telephotograph machines in the offices of newspapers throughout the country.

Besides helping to bring people entertainment and keep them abreast of the news, Long Lines provides many kinds of services to meet the nation's communications needs. Here are a few samples:

  • For business firms that make a large number of long distance calls a day, there is Wide Area Telephone Service. This enables them to telephone all they want at a flat monthly rate, instead of having each call charged separately. This service is available across the U.S. continent or by region, and the customer can have it full-time or on a measured-time basis.

  • Data transmission is provided at various speeds. With Data-Phone service, for example, a customer can dial a data processing unit in a distant city and transmit machine talk over regular telephone lines at about 3,000 words a minute. For greater speeds there are circuits or groups of circuits specially arranged to produce large data channels. Some of these are capable of transmitting hundreds of thousands of words a minute. This service allows the rapid accumulation, storage and arrangement of data--in a variety of forms--for the efficient operation of business, administrative and technological organizations. Another service provides lines to interconnect widely separated computers.

  • Many businesses use private line telephone and teletypewriter services to link branch offices with their headquarters. One form is the "switched network." The interconnecting lines are reserved for the exclusive use of each customer, but calls are switched through equipment all telephone customers use in common. Since the switching systems are on telephone company premises, maintenance is considerably easier, and customers are spared the expense of providing floor space for telephone equipment.

These and other services have come about through a succession of technological advances in the art of communications.

Facilities for Service

Technological development is fundamental to progress in the Bell System.

Advances in the art of communication continuously refresh the business. They help create new services and improve existing services. They make service in general more dependable, more flexible, and more valuable to the user.

That has certainly been demonstrated in long distance telephoning. Vacuum tubes extended the range of the spoken word across the continent,

Carrier systems increased the capacity of long distance facilities, and radiotelephone, submarine cable and satellites brought the world within "reach" of the average telephone user.

Today, there are two main types of facilities in use for long distance communications; coaxial cable and microwave radio relay. A newcomer in the field, the communications satellite, has great promise. All three are broadband transmission systems. Such systems--using either cable conductors or radio channels--transmit over a band of electrical frequencies several million cycles wide. With terminal equipment at each end, this wide band is subdivided into smaller bands for transmitting telephone, television, data or other kinds of signals.

Another basic facility--for overseas service--is submarine cable, a special form of coaxial cable; it made transmission for overseas calling as clear as telephoning across town.

Coax: The Growth of Super Cables

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Coaxial cable was the first wideband long distance transmission system. It made its commercial debut between Minneapolis and Stevens Point, Wis., in 1941. Using a carrier system known as L1, it provided 480 two-way telephone circuits in a pair of tubes. It had two pairs of tubes-one pair for regular service and the other for standby protection.

The coaxial conductor is a copper tube with a wire held in its center by small plastic insulators spaced about an inch apart. The name "coaxial" stems from the fact that both the tube and wire have the same center or axis. Transmission is one way over a tube, so telephone conversations require the use of two coaxials.

The rising demand for communications service after World War II spurred efforts to increase the capacity of coaxial cable. The problem was solved by putting more coaxia]s in each cable and devising ways to transmit a wider band of frequencies through the individual coaxials.

The first of the really high-capacity cables went into service from coast to coast in 1964. With 12 coaxial tubes and a more advanced carrier system called L3, it has a capacity of 9,300 telephone circuits. Next came a cable which has 20 tubes, uses an L4 carrier system and is capable of handling 32,400 simultaneous telephone conversations. The first major 20-tube coaxial cables run along the eastern seaboard and westward from New England to Chicago.

The super-capacity coaxial links of the 1960s are buried deeper than previous cables. The main stations, amplifiers and power feed stations are all placed underground, and the routes skirt major cities and avoid possible target areas. They are designed to withstand natural disasters as well as such possible crises as nuclear attacks.

Microwave: An Electronic Pony Express

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The development of microwave radio has followed a similar pattern of steady increase in capacity.

The first system of this kind went into service between Boston and New York in 1947. It provided two broadband radio channels in each direction, each capable of handling one television signal or 480 telephone circuits. Since then, the capacity has been increased significantly a number of times: to 4,800 circuits in a system called TD 2; to 9,000 in TD 2A; and to 12,000 circuits in TD 2B and a new solid-state system called TD 3.

Microwaves are about one to three inches long. Like light waves, they travel in straight lines and, in general, do not follow the curvature of the earth. They can be focused sharply and aimed from point to point. Less than one watt of power (about the same needed for a pocket flashlight) is enough to speed them on their way over the 30 miles separating stations on a radio relay route.

Transmission by microwaves is rarely affected by atmospheric interference-static and lightning, for example. Microwave paths do not require rights-of-way or poles. Since they are airborne, they are not subject to the hazards of being plowed up or accidentally damaged. Maintenance costs are involved only at terminal and intermediate repeater stations.

On the Ocean Floor

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The introduction of ocean cable in the 1950s increased the quality and reliability of overseas telephone service.

The first deep-sea telephone cable system across the Atlantic used two cables--one for each direction of speech--and initially had a capacity of 36 telephone conversations. The capacity was later boosted, first by special terminal equipment and then by a system called TASI.

TASI -- short for Time Assignment Speech Interpolation--takes advantage of pauses in conversations when one party is listening, or stops speaking to catch his breath or gather his thoughts. With electronic switching at lightning speed, the equipment puts a momentarily idle voice-path at the disposal of someone who is starting to speak.

Bell Laboratories later developed an underseas cable system with an initial capacity of 138 telephone circuits. This system, which uses a single cable that transmits in both directions, can also be used with TASI to increase its conversation-carrying capability. Systems of this type have been placed in the Atlantic, Pacific and Caribbean.

The demand for service continued to grow. Bell Laboratories developed an ocean cable system able to handle even larger volumes of calls. That one, equipped with transistorized repeaters, has a minimum capacity of 720 telephone circuits. The first cable of that type went to work in the Caribbean in 1968.

To lay the thousands of miles of cable required to expand overseas service, AT&T built a cable ship--the C.S. Long Lines--for its own use. The vessel is equipped to handle the latest types of submarine telephone cables. Three tanks in the ship can hold many miles of deep-sea cable, and there are auxiliary tanks for storing cable for repairs, in the laying process, both cable and repeaters pass through special electrohydraulic machinery which makes it possible to lay the repeaters without slowing down.

Links Through Outer Space

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A broadband system suitable for both overseas and domestic telephoning is the communications satellite first developed in the early 1960s. Satellites allow the extension of microwave transmission techniques to outer space. Someday a single satellite system may furnish tens of thousands of circuits for domestic service alone. Satellites in conjunction with terrestrial circuits also provide greater diversification of facilities to assure service continuity.

Satellite facilities in use today for overseas services are supplied by the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat). This is a private enterprise set up by Act of Congress in 1962; Comsat also is a member of Intelsat, an international group working on development of worldwide satellite communications. AT&T is Comsat's largest share owner and its largest customer for satellite circuits. AT&T and other international common carriers share ownership with Comsat in the U. S. earth stations that interconnect satellite circuits with domestic networks.

The Bell System was a pioneer in the satellite communications field. It built the world's first earth station at Andover, Maine, in 1961, and the first active communications satellites--Telstar I and II--to test the feasibility of overseas communications by satellite.

Two development programs were chiefly responsible for American successes in satellite communications: the government's space and missile efforts, and private industry's research in communications. Clearly, communication satellites would not be possible without the propulsion and guidance systems to put them in orbit. But it is equally clear that these satellites would be voiceless without the advances in microwave and solid-state technology accomplished by industry-sponsored research.

The Bell System's major contributions to space communications included development of the transistor, the solar battery and .the low-noise maser amplifier. Without these basic components, communicating by satellite would be impossible.

Working Arrangements With the Partners

Rapid changes in communications needs--and in the technology to fill these needs--pose challenges of national and international proportions.

To meet these challenges, Long Lines works closely with the telephone operating companies. With them, Long Lines plans, operates and manages an increasingly complex network. The common goal, of course, is to provide the best possible service.

An important contribution to smooth teamwork is the license contracts between AT&T and its subsidiaries. These contracts describe the sort of assistance AT&T gives its subsidiaries, and they outline the responsibilities of Long Lines and the 23 operating Bell System companies. Under these contracts, the overall responsibility of Long Lines is to build, operate and maintain the interconnecting facilities that tie together regional telephone systems to form a unified communications network.

Like the operating companies, Long Lines receives important services from AT&T's headquarters staff-including research, financing and engineering. In return for these services, Long Lines pays its share of the costs of furnishing them.

Long Lines and the operating companies have reciprocal arrangements designed for economical and efficient operation of the network.

For example, handling of message traffic--belonging either to Long Lines or to an operating company--may be turned over to the partner in the best position to do a particular job more economically or effectively. There also are agreements under which either partner may use plant facilities owned by the other.

In plant maintenance, certain agreements stipulate that the forces of either Long Lines or an operating company may perform maintenance or service work for both at specific points. Under another arrangement, one of the partners can take care of all the work involved in construction or additions to jointly used plant and bill the other for its portion.

And there are agreements on the division of revenues. These set forth procedures whereby Long Lines and the operating companies are paid for expenses incurred--and facilities used--in furnishing interstate communications services.

Dividing the Revenues

Each Bell System partner involved in providing interstate service -- Long Lines and the 23 operating companies--furnishes plant and performs operations to make the service possible; the purpose of the division of revenues agreement is to make sure that each is paid according to its contributions.

The actual process of dividing revenues is somewhat complex. But the principles behind it are quite simple. Briefly, the arrangement works this way:

Step one: Every month, each partner determines the amount it paid to connecting (or independent) telephone companies for their part in helping to provide the service; the amount of plant it furnished; the applicable reserves; and the expenses it incurred in connection with interstate service.

Step two: The revenues each partner collects from its customers are added together into a single total.

Step three: Out of this total, each partner is reimbursed for its expenses and the payments it makes to connecting telephone companies.

Step four: The remaining money--that is, the amount available for return on plant investment (profit)-is divided among the partners in proportion to the amount of net plant each provides for the service.

This method of handling revenues assures that all partners are treated alike. They share proportionately in the gains as well as the risks involved in the interstate enterprise.

NEXT CHAPTER: Organization

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